When we pick up a book called, "The Blessed ____" (life, church, family, Christian) we're hoping it will show us how to gain God's "favor," right? We think of God pouring out blessings through health, or happiness, or riches, or friends, etc. We wouldn't sign up for the life of faith if it meant giving up a life of comfort, would we?
But Jesus said, "Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs."
Say what? The way of Christ isn't the easy way?
History tells us that the prophet Jeremiah was killed by stones. The prophet Ezekiel was killed. The prophet Amos was tortured and then killed. The prophet Isaiah was sawn in two.
John was the only apostle spared the martyr's death. Peter was crucified upside down. James was beheaded. Andrew was crucified on a diagonal cross. Philip was crucified. Bartholomew was flayed alive and then beheaded. Matthew was killed by a sword. Thomas was killed by a spear. Jude was clubbed to death and then beheaded. Simon the Zealot was sawn in half. Paul was beheaded.
Sign me up! Well, wait a minute . . .
But Jesus said, "You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Doesn't make sense, does it? When persecuted . . . you should . . . rejoice? Really??
It's not that Christians are gluttons for punishment. Of course we would prefer a pat on the back to a slap on the face. But two things happen when we are persecuted because of our righteousness. First, we rejoice not in the pain, but in the future reward beyond the pain. Second, we rejoice because it is in persecution that we identify with Christ. We follow in His footsteps.
It may be large - as it is for many Christians around the world today who are literally dying for their faith. Or it may be small - as it is for many American Christians who are insulted for believing something so silly as the Bible. But persecution follows the true follower of Christ. And if Christ endured with joy, then so will we.
But one question remains: if persecution follows the true follower of Christ, are you experiencing persecution?